The Center for Media Engagement conducted 75 interviews with women in journalism to better understand to what extent they are exposed to online harassment in their work.
The results, compiled in a report published today (11 April), showcase a bleak landscape. Most respondents said they have received negative audience feedback that went beyond people just critiquing their work, and that the harassment was often related to their gender or sexuality.
"Sex is used to intimidate us. Rape is used to frighten, intimidate, and stop us from doing our work, but at a deeper level it is actually about stopping us from having opinions, showing any semblance of independence," said an online editor from India quoted in the report.
The interviews took place in 2016 and 2017 with journalists working in newsrooms in Germany, India, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, working in various roles across the industry. Their quotes in the report have been anonymised in order to enable them to speak more freely.
Many women who agreed to be interviewed explained they have altered the way they approach storytelling and newsgathering in order to minimise the chances of receiving a barrage of negative comments once their stories are published.
Harassment was also more likely to be a recurring issue for the 23 interviewees who worked in television.
"Now and then I’ll get comments thrown at me, purely just about my hair colour. I will get comments about being blonde and not being intelligent enough because of my hair," said a video producer from the UK.
An anchorwoman from Taiwan pointed out most of her followers on Facebook are male. "They don’t really care about the news I share. They follow me because they want to see beautiful girls," she said.
Women working in media in the United Kingdom, the United States and India also felt a strong pressure to engage with audiences on social media, and felt they weren’t really able to escape this harassment by tuning out of their feeds.
Some respondents also outlined the strategies they have developed in order to cope with negative and threatening messages online, such as blocking certain words from comments appearing on their Facebook pages.
The lack of training or guidance from the news organisations on how to deal with online harassment was also highlighted, and most women reported little support from their managers on this issue.